Congress Got it Wrong: Pizza is Not a Vegetable


College students have been right all along; pizza is a vegetable and now, Congress agrees with them too.

On Monday, Congress, working on a spending bill tied to subsidized school meals, turned down proposals sponsored by the Department of Agriculture that would have sought to increase the amount of whole grains in school meals, and limit the amount of starchy foods in weekly meal plans. The food industry and some lawmakers asserted that the two tablespoons of tomato paste on a slice of pizza qualifies it as a serving of vegetables, despite the added sugar, fat and other unnecessary ingredients in the overly processed food. This came in complete opposition to the proposal’s requirement that a quarter-cup of tomato paste per slice would be necessary for it to be counted as a vegetable. The American Frozen Food Institute and other members of the industry argued that USDA’s quarter-cup serving of sauce on a slice of pizza would make the food inedible.

In spite of my undying love for the oft-times greasy comfort food, even I realize that pizza is not a vegetable. The health of our nation’s children cannot be measured by the cost of feeding them. Once again, the government falls prey to corporations that are more concerned with profit than with price their consumers will one day have to pay for their own well-being.

According The New York Times, last January the USDA came up with new regulations that would radically change the country’s school lunch program for the first time in 15 years. Rules included reducing the amount of sodium in foods, adding more fruits and green vegetables, and cutting the amount of starchy vegetables like potatoes (fries are often served every day for lunch in many schools). This was to be another step in the Obama administration’s mission of solving the problem of rampant childhood obesity. Instead, the Obama administration now faces an unwarranted setback thanks to the corporate hold on Congress.

The fight against the bill was lead by the salt and frozen foods industry, as well as potato producing states. Over $5.6 million was spent on lobbying efforts to stop this proposal from going through. They argued that the changes to the $11.1 billion industry were too drastic – the new proposal would cost $6.8 billion over the next five years – with much of the money going to waste as children would not eat the healthy lunch options. Lunches would cost an additional 14 cents per meal. For some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the price hike raised legitimate questions about the ability of some schools to afford the meals an continue to provide federally subsidized lunches to needy kids.

Latest reports from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) show that 17% of the nation’s children are obese or overweight. This is apparently a major concern for national security too. In an effort to push the bill through Congress, more than 100 retired generals and admirals wrote an open letter warning that the high number of young people rejected from the military due to being overweight could one day threatened American security interests. 

The proposal is not perfect. It is an expensive arrangement and there is no guarantee that students will actually eat these healthier meals, potentially causing kids to not eat at all. Nonetheless, it’s a long overdue overhaul to our failing lunch system. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons